Triremes (or Trieres)

I took some Navwar 1/1200th galleys out for painting from stock last week. I selected four Triremes (or more correctly in the Greek, Trieres) and went through the usual wargamers debate … do I paint these with sails up or down.

Ancient galleys usually went into battle with their mainsail and mast left ashore. The vessels were fairly light and the weight of the mast and the sails would slow them down.

Actually, the galleys did sail into battle with one sail on board. It was usual for these ships to have a large square mainsail which was normally carried amidships. They also carried a smaller square sail that was hoist to the front of the vessel. This sail was known as the histia akateia and it was hoist from the small mast and yard at the front of the galley (the histos akateios (the smaller boat-mast) and the keraiai akateioi (the yard for that mast).

The histia akateia seems to have been referred to as the “life and death” sail as during battle, it was normally hoist when a ship was trying to run away and needed all the assistance it could get to get its tired crew of rowers from the battle.

I digress. So, the usual wargamers debate. Do I paint the mainsail and attach it or not? Arguably the vessels look more attractive with the sail up and are easier to move around but it is more accurate to paint them without the mainsail and the vessels are easier to transport and less fragile this way.

I opted for accuracy. The triremes are being painted as a test this week (pictures and more details later) before embarking on the other 50 or so galleys – mostly quadriremes and quinquiremes. Trouble is, as I am painting triremes at the moment, I am getting a hankering for some sea battles from the Peloponnesian War. Oh well, out with the Thucydides.

Oh, and for the technical amongst us, the crew of a trireme would normally be:

  • 1   Trierarch (captain)
  • 4   Archers (The captain’s bodyguard)
  • 1   Auletes (a piper or drummer used for keeping the rowers rowing in time)
  • 1   Helmsman  (steering – manned the two steering oars at the rear of the vessel)
  • 1   Pentekontarchos (the ship’s accountant – bought food/drink for the crew)
  • 1   Boatswain (sails and rigging)
  • 10  Sailors (sails and rigging)
  • 1   Prorates (navigator and bow lookout)
  • 1   Shipwright (damage control – or rather repairs)
  • 10  Soldiers (or marines)
  • 170 Rowers (who could also fight when called upon to do so – but who had no shields or armour)

I will post some photos of the painted vessels in a week or so. In the meantime, if you are looking for more information on Triremes, then I can recommend the Trireme Trust. Well worth the time to check out. There is a good book discussing the Trireme Project, easy to read and recommended for anyone interested in ancient galleys.

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